Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Designer Glass from Finland - the Bischofberger Collection at Stanze del Vetro, Venice

Designer: Tapio Wirkkala
Jääpala (Chunk of Ice) - Bowl, 1950
Company: Iittala

(Venice, Italy) Finland is a land of the Midnight Sun, covered with lush forests and more than 180,000 pristine lakes born from glaciers. Lapland, in the north, lies within the Artic Circle where the reindeer roam. Helsinki is the second most northern capital in the world after Reykjavik, Iceland. In ancient times, Finns believe that each tree was ruled by a spirit, and that certain wise old trees were sacred. So it is no wonder that much of the glass designed by the Finns was inspired by ice with a touch of whimsy from the woodland nymphs.

Designer: Alvar Aalto
Vase, 1937
Company: Karhula
Bruno Bischofberger, the Swiss art dealer and gallerist, and his wife, Christina, collect glass art objects from the most important Finnish designers of the 20th century. On display for the first time in Venice are over 300 works of art that reflect the soul and spirit of the collectors -- the Bischofbergers are passionate about magical, mystical Finnish glass.

Designer: GUNNEL NYMAN
Rågåkern / Ruispelto (Rye Field)
Vase, 1937
Company: Karhula
In the early 1920s, after becoming independent from what was about to become the Soviet Union, Finland used design as its manifesto in an attempt to establish its autonomy and cultural sovereignty. Some of the country's greatest designers began to use glass to create works of art that blended tradition, experimentation and technique. Unlike Venice, Finland had no tradition of glass blowing, but it did have one important element needed to create the blaze that melts glass -- wood, and plenty of it. Finland is the most forested nation in Europe; 76% of the land area is covered with trees. The decision to concentrate on the production of glass was pragmatic for a country rich with wood but without fossil fuels and other natural resources; to hire artists, architects and graphic designers to design the glass was divine inspiration.

Designer: AINO MARSIO-AALTO
Pitcher, Mug, Tumbler 1932
Company: Karhula
Finnish glass came on the international scene in the 1930s, after five top Finnish names designed glass objects for the first time. The impulsive Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) was Finland's most widely known architect; his realistic wife, Aino Marsio-Aalto (1894-1949) was also an architect, and worked in her husband's office -- the two opposites balanced each other. Arttu Brummer (1891-1951) designed furniture and glass, but was more influential as a highly-regarded teacher of design, spawning a pack of uber-cool future designers like Goran Hongell, Kaj Franck, Gunnel Nyman, Timo Sarpaneva and Tapio Wirkkala. Goran Hongell (1902-1973) was an interior designer before becoming a pioneer in Finnish glass design. He was the very first designer hired by a Finnish glassware company, Karhula-Iittala, to give the everyday piece of glass a lift. Gunnel Nyman (1909-1948) majored in furniture design, but started working with glass in her student years, and would become the most widely known Finnish glass artist in the late 1940s. These five designers would put Finland on the map when it came to visionary Scandinavian glass design.

Finnish troops during the Winter War
Then came World War II. Once part of the Russian Empire, Finland had dicey relationships with both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany -- it did not declare war on Germany, its former partner, until March 3, 1945 when the war was winding down; it would lose 10% of its territory to the Soviet Union. After three personal wars during the Second World War: two with the Soviet Union -- the Winter War, which the vastly outnumbered Finns fought on skis with reindeer, and the Continuation War -- and one with Germany, the Lapland War -- Finland need good publicity to illustrate that their sympathies were with the West, and they decided to use glass as the medium. Glass was beauty; glass was hope; glass was peace.

After the war, Finnish glass design had two different perspectives: as high quality art objects and as industrial products. During the press conference, the curators, Kaisa Koivisto and Pekka Korvenmaa, said that Finns are a practical people, and an object must be useful, so a glass sculpture that served no useful purpose was greeted with skepticism. While Italy has "always appreciated beauty for beauty's sake," in Finland, "first you take care of your basic needs."

Designer: KAJ FRANCK
Pitchers, 1954
Company: Nuutajärvi
The 1950s saw the beginning of the Golden Age of Finnish glass. Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985), Timo Sarpaneva (1926-2006), Kaj Franck (1911-1989) and Oiva Toikka (1931-) burst on the scene, creating beautiful glass sculptures that served no useful purpose, as well as industrial objects such as practical drinking glasses, but with a flair. In Finland, glass designers were considered artists; the companies they produced for used their names to market the glass; they achieved cult status. You already know who Tapio Wirkkala is because he designed this bottle:


Wirkkala began his career as a commercial artist, and served at the front during the war. After the war, he married artist Rut Bryk. In 1946, he entered the Iittala glassworks design competition and won first prize.The international Milan Triennial in Italy was the Olympics of design, attracting top designers from all over the planet, and in 1951, Wirkkala won three Gran Premios, putting himself and Finland firmly on the globe. He and his wife loved Lapland and its Artic indigenous people, the Sami, in the north, and acquired a summer residence there; the magic of Lapland had a profound influence on his work. A highlight of the exhibition is Pilkkiavanto, or "Hole in the Ice," which the city of Helsinki commissioned in 1970 for the 70th birthday of Urho Kekkonen, the President of Finland. Wirkkala was inspired by the chunk of ice cut to form the hole for ice fishing.

TAPIO WIRKKALA
Pilkkiavanto (Hole in the Ice)
Plate, 1970
Company: Iittala
Long before Apple started making iThings, Timo Sarpaneva created the i-glass collection for Iittala division of Karhula-Iittala, which focused on Art glass, while the Karhula division of the company focused on mass production. The i-glass logo turned Iittala into a coveted brand. Like Tapio Wirkkala before him, Sarpaneva won the Gran Premio for glass design at the Milan Triennial of 1954, transforming him into an internationally known glass artist. The Finns were the rock stars of glass design just about the same time Elvis became the first rock star. Both Timo Sarpaneva and Tapio Wirkkala would go on to work with the renowned Venetian glass company, Venini, here on Murano.

Designer: Timo Sarpaneva
Kajakki (Kayak) - Bowl, 1953
Company: Iittala
During the 60s and 70s, Finnish glass focused on color and energy like most of the rest of the world. The last designer of renown, who is still working today, is Oiva Toikka, whose fanciful Birds series became a popular gift item and collectible, and kept the Nuutajärvi glassworks in operation for several extra years.

Designer: Oiva Toikka
Kiikkuri (Red-throated Diver) - Sculpture, 1975
Company: Nuutajärvi

The Bischofberger Collection ends in 1973, when Finnish glass ceased to flourish due to international reasons. The energy crisis hit the glass industry hard, Finland and the Nordic countries in particular, which were known for handcrafted art and glass design.

Designer: ARTTU BRUMMER
Bowl with lid, 1936 
Company: Riihimäki
Personally, I would love to see a time when glass designers were rock stars once again and our everyday glassware had a little touch of soul.

IMAGES COURTESY:  Bischofberger Collection, Switzerland
Photos: Rauno Träskelin


Glass from Finland in the Bischofberger Collection
curated by Kaisa Koivisto and Pekka Korvenmaa  
3 April 2015 – 2 August 2015
For more information: STANZE DEL VETRO
on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. Finland is a land of the Midnight Sun, covered with lush forests and more than 180,000 pristine lakes born from glaciers. Lapland, in the north, lies within the Artic Circle, where the reindeer roam. Helsinki is the second most northern capital in the world after Reykjavik, Iceland. In ancient times, Finns believe that each tree was ruled by a spirit, and that certain wise old trees were sacred. So it is no wonder that much of the glass designed by the Finns was inspired by ice with a touch of whimsy from the woodland nymphs.

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